New to the local orchid scene are Sarcochilus, charming petite plants from Australia that are already receiving a warm welcome here in the States. This genus grows naturally in the Aussie bush and it was just a question of time before these epiphytes became available everywhere. The timing is good because American hobbyists have mastered Phalaenopsis and are looking to try something different.
At first sight, Sarcochilus look like miniature Vandas with alternating top leaves and flower spikes that emerge from the axils. The foliage is reminiscent of the popular blue Neostylis, topping out at less than 10”, and often getting ‘clumpy’. Division is easy since the pieces just fall away when potting. Mature specimens can produce a mass of flowers in small pots and it is not uncommon to see a dozen spikes, each bearing a dozen buds.
Historically, Sarcochilus were largely ignored by collectors in the U.S. who were first drawn to the big and showy blooms of Cattleyas, Cymbidiums, and complex Paphiopedilums, then to the long lasting qualities of moth orchids. But, sometimes, great things come in small packages and there is much to be said for having a medley of miniatures on a windowsill. The average Sarco resides in a four inch pot.
The very first Sarcochilus was identified in the wild in 1810 and, today, there are 18 known species. From these, breeders have created hundreds of hybrids for the public to enjoy. The genus name is taken from the Greek words, Sarcos (flesh) and Cheilos (lip) to describe the fleshy lips.
Close examination of the flowering habit reveals stems that grow up, down or even sideways and do not require staking. Typical sepal and petal colors include red, white, and yellow – often with tiny spotting or a pleasing bull’s eye pattern in the center. The overall impression is one of cuteness and growers can expect the modest blooms to last about six weeks, which is on par with other scented favorites such as Oncidiums.
From a culture standpoint, Sarcos prefer to be pot bound in a well drained medium such as small bark chips. Weekly watering and bright, indirect light is recommended. By all accounts, this new and exciting epiphyte is suitable for beginners.
The breadth of the orchid world is seemingly endless and helps to explain why this hobby has resonated with people around the world for so long. Sarcochilus is just the latest addition to a long list of captivating genera and is rapidly becoming a must have in every collection.